The average American worker holds between 10 and 15 jobs during their lifetime, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and if you want your salary to not become stagnant, experts suggest you change jobs every three years. All of that job hopping means you’re leaving a lot of companies, but not everyone does it well, says Mike Rognlien, author of This Is Now Your Company: A Culture Carrier’s Manifesto.
“It sucks when someone who doesn’t want to be there is there,” he says. “Some people tell themselves they’re doing the company a favor by not leaving. Some don’t have choices and can’t up and leave. What happens is that people stay longer than they should.”
When to leave
Rognlien quit a high-profile job at Facebook in October after spending six and a half years in learning and development. He knew it was time to leave when the company growth made it impossible for him to connect with all of the new employees he was helping to onboard.
“I was suited for my role at Facebook when it was just coming together organizationally,” he says. “One thing that really mattered to me was getting to know everybody’s job satisfaction. I was everyone’s Tom from Myspace.”
As Facebook grew, Rognlien says he started to feel annoyed by things that were related to its growth. “I didn’t want to spend my time as an anonymous speaker,” he says. “I wanted to be the person who could get to know others well; I wanted to have a bigger scope in smaller group. I didn’t want Facebook to not succeed so I could be happy, and I didn’t want to become that person who’s drained, poison, or caustic.”
Rognlien says he had to be honest about what made him happy and what drove him, but he says too many people ignore the signs that they’re ready to move on, such as no longer being engaged or feeling challenged.
How to leave
Leaving well ensures that you don’t burn bridges and it keeps the door open for the future. Rognlien calls it an insurance policy, in case you ever want to go back. It’s also a way to recognize the opportunities you were given while you were there, and the relationships you built along the way.
“Think about what reputation you want to have,” he says. “How do you want your former company to feel about you and work you did after you’re gone?”
Rognlien sat down with his boss and said he was thinking of leaving; it would likely be his last year at Facebook and he wanted to figure out how to make it great. Most people, however, make the mistake of not trusting others to help them think through decisions, says Rognlien. “They keep it close to the vest until they can’t take it anymore and make a decision,” he says. “They drop it on people instead of building a relationship based on trust.”
Fear can keep you from not sharing, but Rognlien asks, what are you really afraid of? “If you want to leave, you’re probably not afraid of being fired,” he says. “It’s likely vulnerability, being judged, or unintended consequences. I’ve never seen somebody get into a mindful conversation with good intention and not have a good outcome.”
State that you’re pursuing something different, not better. People who leave well don’t talk about how much more exciting their new role will be, how much better the opportunity is, or how it will bring them happiness. They’re humbled by the experience they’re leaving and grateful for the job they’re leaving behind, despite ups and downs.
When you leave, be sure to give your current company as much notice as possible. Rognlien gave his boss two months and said he was willing to stay longer and be a resource for who replaced him. Wrap things up and hand off projects. Also be sure to say your goodbyes. “I didn’t want my last day to be about anxiety or short-changing anyone,” he says. “It was more important to be mindful.”
While it’s easier to leave when it’s on your own terms, Rognlien says the exit strategy works in any circumstance. “Being humbled by your experience will mean being very clear about mistakes you made and things you would have done differently,” he says. “What’s wrong with being vocal about that?”
If you’re leaving to go to a new employer, they will likely be willing to wait while you wrap things up with your current job. “The conversation should help start you off on a good foot, demonstrating in the process that you’re conscientious about leaving,” he says.
After you leave
It’s common to promise to keep in touch with former coworkers, and Rognlien encourages you to do that. “People who leave well are the ones who give the team they’re leaving the time to grow and adjust to their absence but are also willing to cultivate the lasting relationships they’ve made,” he says.
Rognlien is connected to former Facebook coworkers through Facebook. “What’s unique about Facebook is that it uses its product extensively,” he says. “There are thousands of internal groups to communicate on topics, including former employees.”
People share everything from job leads to transition challenges. “It’s a huge emotional support group,” says Rognlien. “Some companies have LinkedIn alumni groups. If there isn’t a group for your employer, start one.”
Leaving a company is part of the employment experience. “There are three times when you have the highest amount of impact in a company: When you first start and you are the most dangerous person in company; when you’re killing it and doing important work; and when you leave,” says Rognlien. “People can do damage on their way out if strong emotions aren’t managed well. Leaving can be a positive experience if you focus on impact and work to leave a good legacy. You never know; you may need to go back or work with same people.”